MT Skills Special: Leadership in the Community

Organisations across the private, public and third sectors are doing their bit to help solve the UK's high-level skills problem. MT looks at how they're faring.

by James Taylor
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013
Solving the UK's high-level skills problem isn't just about education reform. All kinds of organisations across the private, public and third sectors can play a part in making sure that school leavers and graduates have more of the skills employers need. In recent years, for instance, some innovative charities have emerged that allow young people to give something back to their community while picking up valuable leadership and management experience. With the Government trying to push its Big Society agenda, that's a very timely concept.

One of the best-known examples is Teach First, which recruits a group of high-flying graduates every year and sends them off to teach in inner-city schools for a couple of years; some stay on in the teaching profession, but many then go off into the corporate world. The scheme is backed by various big companies, so TF alumni are guaranteed a foot in the door - but their teaching time also gives them skills that the people they're competing against in the job market might not have. So successful has Teach First been that founder Nat Wei has now been ennobled and put in charge of the Government's Big Society efforts.

A more recent example is City Year London. Also based on a US model (like Teach First), this new charity recruits a 'corps' of young people to spend ten months volunteering full-time in their community - which usually involves working in local schools as tutors and mentors, while leading after-school programmes and community projects. According to chief exec Sophie Livingstone, the work helps corps members improve their project planning, management, presentation and networking skills, standing them in good stead whatever they go on to do next. 'The idea is that City Year kick-starts a lifetime both of giving back and of being a responsible leader in whatever sector they end up in,' she tells MT.

Like Teach First, City Year is a good example of private and third sector collaboration. The scheme has various corporate partners, who don't just give money but also time - for training, mentoring and general CV and careers advice. Livingstone hopes that ultimately, she'll be able to generate even greater recognition among employers of the skills City Year alumni gain in the process of 'giving a year', so there'll be even more of a professional quid pro quo for its volunteers.

Teaching leadership and management in schools and universities is all well and good, but there's no substitute for experience. So schemes like this that push young people to learn these skills in the real world - and explicitly sell it in terms of improving their chances of future career success, not least by getting businesses involved in the process - should surely be encouraged.

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